Gertrude Benham

Gertrude Benham

(1867 – 1938)

DJ Name: Ben(d and snap)ham 

Before Emmy left Virginia, she wanted to cross one thing off her bucket list: hike Old Rag, a big beautiful peak amid the Blue Ridge Mountains. She enlisted Camille to join her on her journey, and the two set off up Old Rag with Bodo’s Bagels in tow. It was tiring and it took them nearly all day, but they did it, dammit, and they devoured their bagels when they reached the tippy top. That leads us into this week’s Historic Shuffle sponsor, Bodo’s Bagels.* If you haven’t had Bodo’s, you ain’t living. Get to Charlottesville asap and order a dozen and a sandwich. Don’t forget the sprouts! Now, back to your weekly history lesson. 

This week’s shuffler is just like Emmy and Camille, bounding up mountains with the agility of gazelles, but she did it, like, a lot more often. In fact, she’d scale more than 300 major routes in her lifetime. Gertrude Benham watched as all the boys struck out on missions to climb mountains and she said “ain’t about how fast I get there, ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side; it’s the climb.” But, of course, being the wanderlusting woman that she was, she climbed the mountains better and faster than many others, even becoming the first madam to make it up Mount Kilimanjaro. 

Luckily, she had her favorite playlist to keep her company on her mountain climbing journey, and she requests you shuffle it up as we take a leap across the pond back in time into London.

*this is not actually sponsored by Bodo’s, but hey @bodo we’d love to collab

Gertrude Emily Benham, or Truda for short, was born in July of 1867 in London. She was the baby of the fam, the sixth kid born to Frederick and Emily Benham. Frederick worked as an iron manufacturer, and Truda would accompany her pops on summer trips to the Alps. It was during those days of climbing up the Matterhorn and roaming around the Swiss countryside that Truda gained an appreciation for mountains and nature that would persist throughout her life. 

Unfortunately, not much information exists on Truda’s early years. We know she did some hiking and mountain climbing, probably specifically in the Alps with her dad throughout his life. But that’s about. Keep a journal, folks. You could be a Historic Shuffler one day and we need your juicy life details to tell your tale and pick your tunes. However, in her 30s, her aging parents’ health began to decline and she doted on her parents until they passed away when she was 36 years old. Realizing her schedule was now much more open, she took the small inheritance her parents had left her and headed to Canada after seeing pamphlets for the newly opened Rocky Mountains. She hopped off the plane at LAX, oops, we mean Alberta, Canada, and she said “imma climb that” when she saw the Valley of the Ten Peaks. One of its toughest peaks was called Mount Fay, named after an accomplished American mountaineer named Charles Fay who hadn’t yet climbed that peak (what the heck? Who named it that then? Who names peaks? Where is the Emmy and Camille peak?? Or Historic Shuffle High?) 

So anyway, Truly Scrumptious Truda set out to climb Mount Fay and whaddya know, she succeeded. She had started her ascent around the same time as Charles Fay of Mount Fay Fame, but they took different routes and her route led her straight to the top and his route… well, his route was rooted in failure. So Charles Fay said, “well, whaddya say I go a different way, okay?” JK, he was actually not so easygoing and he threw a tantrum about this British lass beating his a$$ to HIS PEAK so instead he said “how about we name that peak over there after me” but, again, joke was on him because Truda said “truth is…I already tapped that one too. You can have my sloppy seconds though.” 

Womp womp.

Because she was truly the greatest, one of those peaks was named Truda Peak in her honor in 1906. Truda’s mountain climbing career wasn’t over yet, though. Though she’d climb more than 300 peaks, including 130 Alpine ascents, and scurry up 10,000 feet or higher all over the world, one of her most harrowing climbing experiences for this heroine came in 1909 when she took on Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Many attempts to reach the peak of Kilimanjaro started in the 1860s and as Truda made her way up, many a man on their way down warned her that the climb had barely been completed by anyone else, yet alone a British lad or lass. She didn’t let the sights of skeletons and hazardous cliffs stop her and when she reached the top, the views were worth it. Truda told the Daily Mail, “My first feeling up there was that of being absolutely on top of the world.” And because there’s always gonna be another mountain, and she’s always gonna wanna make it move, her treks didn’t stop there. 

Truda made three journeys on foot across Africa walking west to east and seven trips around the globe. Apparently she was only knocked out with a sickness once throughout her travels when she contracted malaria while in Calcutta after some mosquitos snuck their way in through a torn net. She spent about 250 pounds a year AKA nearly $13K today and traded her embroidery and sketches of quotes that read “Not All Who Wander are Lost” or “Wander Often Wonder Always”, for food along her trips. To fill her moments of down time, Truda sketched, read and journaled. We love healthy habits. By the summer of 1914, Truda had visited India and the Himalaya for the third time and made her way across the mountains and passes of Kashmir. A slight hiatus in her hiking career happened due to the outbreak of World War I, but after an armistice was reached she made her way back to India and hiked some 700 miles along the southern Himalaya to follow the old Silk Road. 

Truda was selected to become a member of the Royal Geographical Society in 1916, but this stint lasted only six months because her documentations of her trips weren’t science-y enough. While she wrote about festivities, neighborhood sites and local gatherings, the Society was more interested in, like, plant types and fossils. Ya know, just academia things. That wasn’t necessarily Truda’s vibe hence why her involvement was short-lived.

Most of Truda’s life was spent on the trails all by herself or with guides. She wasn’t much interested in settling down and she never married. For many years she tried to enter Tibet but was denied access over and over again. She continued to camp along the border every time she returned and finally was able to enter, legally, in 1925. Truda finished her seventh trip around the world in 1934 after touring much of South America. Sadly, after she set out for an eighth trip around the world, Truda died aboard a ship off the coast of East Africa at the age of 71. She was buried at sea, seizing her wanderlust spirit until the very end. Gertrude Benham’s life was a climb and the view was always great.

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